Irish-born Hollywood actor Liam Neeson was on hand in London tonight (28 November 2010) for the Evening Standard Theatre Awards, held at the recently reopened Savoy Hotel, to present the Best Actress trophy, which was renamed last year in honour of his late wife Natasha Richardson. The 2010 prize went to Nancy Carroll for her performance in Thea Sharrock’s revival of Terrence Rattigan’s After the Dance, which ran in rep this past summer at the NT Lyttelton.

The National also nabbed Best Actor and Best Director on its way to taking home four gongs at the first of the major annual theatre prize-givings. Rory Kinnear won Best Actor for his title role in NT artistic director Nicholas Hytner’s production of Hamlet, currently running in the NT Olivier – as well as for his other Shakespearean performance of the year, as Angelo in Measure for Measure at the Almeida. Best Director went to NT associate Howard Davies for his revival of Bulgakov’s Russian classic The White Guard at the National as well as for his West End revival of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons. Davies last won the same gong for his 1998 NT production of Bulgakov’s Flight (jointly with The Iceman Cometh that year at the Old Vic).

Elsewhere, London’s other leading subsidised theatres – the Royal Court (matching the NT’s four wins), the Donmar Warehouse and the Barbican Centre – also triumphed. The Donmar’s revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Passion scooped Best Musical, winning out over commercial competition from Legally Blonde, whose lead Sheridan Smith had also been shortlisted for Best Actress, and the 25th anniversary production of Les Miserables.

And the team behind immersive theatre experience You Me Bum Bum Train, which in July become the fastest-selling show ever produced at the Barbican, was presented collectively with Outstanding Newcomer.

You Me Bum Bum Train creators Kate Bond and Morgan Lloyd beat off competition from former Spice Girl Melanie Chisholm for Blood Brothers, and three young Royal Court actors: Daniel Kaluuya (for boxing drama Sucker Punch), Isabella Laughland (Wanderlust) and Shannon Tarbet (Spur of the Moment). The judges decided to compensate for the loss by, for the first time ever, presenting a special award to Kaluuya, the newly created “Editor’s Award for a Shooting Star” for a man they “believe to be a real shooting star”.

Roy Williams’ play also won Best Design for Miriam Buether (jointly awarded for Earthquakes in London at the NT Cottesloe), who transformed the Royal Court Downstairs into a boxing ring for it. Sucker Punch, however, missed out on Best Play to another Court offering, American Bruce Norris’ acclaimed satire on racial prejudice, Clybourne Park. The comedy transfers from the Royal Court to the West End in February, as did last year’s Best Play winner, Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem.

The Court’s fourth award of the night was for Most Promising Playwright, which went to Anya Reiss for Spur of the Moment, which she wrote while on a young writers’ course at the theatre when she was only 17. The Most Promising Playwright prize, named in memory of former Standard editor Charles Wintour, carries a £3,000 cheque for the winner, and £1,000 cheques for the other shortlisted authors.

The Evening Standard’s two special, non-shortlisted awards – the Golden Seagull and the Lebedev Special Award (named after the newspaper’s Russian proprietor Evgeny Lebedev) – were presented to director Peter Hall, who has just celebrated his 80th birthday, and actor Michael Gambon, for their contributions to, respectively, world and British theatre.

The 56th annual Evening Standard Theatre Awards ceremony was a black-tie dinner held at the Savoy Hotel, hosted by Stephen Fry, with presenters including Isabelle Huppert, Charlotte Rampling, David Harewood and Eileen Atkins. In addition to winners and nominees, guests included Michael Grandage, Roger Allam, Nica Burns, Tom Hollander, Martin Freeman, Adrian Lester, Miriam Margolyes, Rebecca Hall, Diana Vickers, Damian Lewis and Ian McKellen.

The Evening Standard Awards are the first in the annual awards season. They’re followed by our own Whatsonstage.com Awards, the “theatregoers’ choice”, for which shortlists are announced at our launch party this Friday 3 December following theatregoer nominations throughout November, the Critics’ Circle and the Laurence Olivier Awards.

** TO NOMINATE YOUR FAVOURITES IN THE WHATSONSTAGE.COM AWARDS – NOMINATIONS CLOSE TUESDAY 30 NOVEMBER – CLICK HERE! **

The full shortlists in this year’s 56th annual Evening Standard Theatre Awards, which covers openings to the end of October 2010, are below with winners denoted in red bold:

BEST ACTOR

  • David Suchet for All My Sons (Apollo Theatre)
  • Roger Allam for Henry IV Parts One and Two (Shakespeare's Globe)
  • Rory Kinnear for Measure For Measure (Almeida theatre) and Hamlet (National Theatre, Olivier)

The Natasha Richardson Award for BEST ACTRESS

BEST PLAY

The Ned Sherrin Award for BEST MUSICAL

  • Legally Blonde The Musical (Savoy Theatre)
  • Les Misérables (2010) (Cameron Mackintosh production at the Barbican Theatre)
  • Passion (Donmar Warehouse)

BEST DIRECTOR

  • Howard Davies for The White Guard (National Theatre, Lyttelton) and All My Sons (Apollo Theatre)
  • Laurie Sansom for Beyond The Horizon and Spring Storm (both National Theatre, Cottesloe)
  • Nicholas Hytner for The Habit of Art (National Theatre, Lyttelton), London Assurance (National Theatre, Olivier) and Hamlet (National Theatre, Olivier)
  • Thea Sharrock for After the Dance (National Theatre, Lyttelton)

BEST DESIGN

  • Bunny Christie for The White Guard (National Theatre, Lyttelton)
  • Christopher Oram for Passion and Red (both Donmar Warehouse)
  • Miriam Buether for Sucker Punch (Royal Court) and Earthquakes In London (National Theatre, Cottesloe)

The Charles Wintour Award for MOST PROMISING PLAYWRIGHT

  • Anya Reiss for Spur of the Moment (Royal Court)
  • DC Moore for The Empire (Royal Court)
  • Nick Payne for If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet (Bush Theatre) and Wanderlust (Royal Court)

The Milton Shulman Award for OUTSTANDING NEWCOMER

Editor’s Award for a SHOOTING STAR

  • Daniel Kaluuya, for his performance in Sucker Punch (Royal Court)
  • The Lebedev SPECIAL AWARD

  • Michael Gambon for his contribution to British theatre
  • The Moscow Art Theatre’s GOLDEN SEAGULL

  • Sir Peter Hall for his contribution to world theatre